THE REASONABLENESS OF THEISM (CIRCA 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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THE REASONABLENESS OF THEISM

By George Herbert Blount, Applied Physicist

B.A., University of California at Los Angeles, M.Sc., Cali­fornia Institute of Technology. Formerly Staff Member of the Los Alamos Physics Group; Chief Instrument Engineer of the Aerodynamic Test Division of the University of South­ern California’s Engineering Center; now Head of the Anal­ysis Group of the Point Mugu Bendix Aviation Facility.

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I believe in God. Far more than this, I trust in God. For to me the concept of deity is not only a philosophical cornerstone—it is a dominant practical consideration. God is a part of my daily endeavor.

This is in sharp contrast to the view of many first-rate thinkers. Not a few intellectual giants have driven God from their world. And since the faith of atheism is not without its preachers, God’s exit has had wide acclaim. There is, there­fore, an obligation to present the reasoning behind the theistic position.

As an attempt to help execute this obligation, I wish to indicate some of my own reflections. First, I wish to consider some of the major evidences for and against theism. A consid­eration of these things provides an understanding of why a reasonable man can, and should, believe in God. Then, I wish to suggest why a man does believe in God.

Those evidences of God which are in no way connected with individual enlightenment have been subject to much study and analysis. The discussion of the ages has expanded the implications of the universal evidences to the lofty heights of the Christian concept and, then, in another breath, shriveled them to a Spencer‘s “Unknowable.” Such discord of deductive dogma appears to be the norm.

Upon the testimony of the bulk of philosophical thought, the universal evidences lead to what might be called a god, but not of necessity to the God of, say, the Bible. This weak­ness of the evidences in the interpretive hands of philosophy does not, of course, rule out the possibility of the Biblical Deity. Nor does it affirm that the vague image is completely due to a lack in the evidences: perhaps the telescope is capable of a finer adjustment than is often obtained. But, apparently, the evidences do not provide an absolute proof.

To indicate something of the true value of the evidences and what appears to me as their proper application, I would like to call to mind a parallel situation found in mathematics.

In geometry it is especially apparent that an extensive science can be built by starting with but a few axioms. The axioms are accepted without proof of their validity. The dependent science manipulates the axioms to make explicit their implications. In proving any theorem the case ultimately rests upon the axioms. However, no combination of theorems constitutes a proof of the axioms. To assess the value of the axioms, tests of inconsistency and physical correlation can be applied. But finding each of the theorems to be of valid practical application and finding no theorem which indicates inconsistency is, yet, less than a proof of the axioms. The axioms are still accepted on faith, though indeed not on blind faith.

In a similar manner, from a philosophical viewpoint, God’s existence is taken axiomatically. The universal evidences are related to the demonstrations of geometry. They do not prove the basic axioms, but rather, follow from them. If a correlation exists between a demonstration and reality as we know it, then there is a bit of evidence as to the validity of the chosen axioms. The evidences consist of the correlation between what is logically expected if the theistic axioms are true and what is experimentally found true. The evidences do not destroy the element of faith, but they provide for the acceptance of the axioms on an enlightened rather than a blind basis.

The evidences have been grouped into several general categories. Examples of these are (1) the cosmological, (2) the teleological, and (3) the anthropological evidences.

The cosmological argument looks at a changing and, hence, apparently non-eternal universe, and thereby is led to a higher eternal reality. The teleological approach sees design in the universe, and therefore is forced to consider a designer. The anthropological evidences are found in the moral nature of man. Practical moral obligation is considered as an approximate interpretation of an absolute norm. The higher law demands a higher law giver.

My own scientific work is in physical analysis. Therefore, the theistic evidences which I see most often are teleological. Indeed, to determine the “laws” which govern a complex of phenomena one must first believe that order of some sort exists. It is the work of the analyst to discover the order.

The analyst begins the solution of a problem by seeking a model of the phenomenon. The model is a mathematical or physical approximation to the actual situation. The model is at first the supposition of the physicist. It is selected to be as simple as possible and still satisfactorily to approximate reality. The model is then investigated to determine the laws governing the situation. If comprehensive real data can be obtained and correlated with the laws derived from the model, then the model is considered to be well chosen.

It is significant that it appears that for any physical prob­lem a model eventually can be found. It therefore seems that some kind of order is a part of reality. (How order and reality are described is a function of the prevailing mental climate.) To propose that order has arisen spontaneously from nothing, or from perhaps chaos, is somewhat uncomplimentary to a man’s reason. And thus, a man, a thinking man, is led to postulate a planner of the universe he sees. Deity becomes a vital part of his set of axioms of life. God is taken into the model of reality. Correlation between the conclusion and experience is an evidence (but not a proof) of the physical validity of the axiom. If the model which includes the engi­neering God is true, then order should be a part of reality. Order in experience indicates that the model is valid to the limit of present experience.

Every atheist believes that he is also reasonable. And perhaps rationality should not be denied the atheist, for it has been stressed that the evidences of Deity are not proofs but rather significant indicators.

One of the more prominent features of the atheistic evi­dences is that they are negative. Lack of positive proof of Deity is taken to mean that Deity is not necessary. The evidences for Deity are considered not sufficient. For ex­ample, the cosmological argument is countered with the possibility that matter and energy are in unending exchange, and that therefore reality, as we know it, has had no begin­ning. The orderliness of Nature is considered not so orderly after all, and apparent order is considered as high quality mental fiction. Little evidence is seen for a standard of justice, and all aspects of Nature are considered amoral. Thus, the evidence which the atheist sees is simply that the theistic evidences are not compelling enough.

The very apparent weakness of the negative approach and, on the other hand, the lack of an absolute philosophical proof of Deity has led some to a middle position. However, it is clear that in a practical sense the atheist and the agnostic are of the same camp. Both claim that in the universe of their acquaintance there is no God. The agnostic adds little to the view of the atheist by considering it academically possible that another “universe” exists in which there may be a God. This logical mechanism is a means of averting a collision with the real question. What is meant by the question of Deity is actually: “Is there a God whose sphere of influence penetrates or encompasses at least some portion of our own sphere of activity?” Thus, one who has come to a settled agnostic view is just as much an atheist in a practical sense— the sense of ultimate importance—as the declared atheist. A man seeking his way may be in an undecided flux, but for the man who has reached his conclusion there is no practical middle ground.

I am convinced that reason is the friend of theism.

By comparing the evidences for and against Deity it is clear that while neither side is provided absolute proof, the atheistic view requires considerably more faith than the theis­tic view. Or, more accurately stated, the faith of the theist is enlightened, but the faith of the atheist is quite blind. I am convinced that reason is the friend of theism. Of course, when one extrapolates beyond the basic evidences he is open to all sorts of uncertainties. I am not trying to justify the extensive labyrinth of good and bad produced by philosophers. But the primitive concepts of theism are reason­able. If one has failed to see the evidences, it may be because he has failed to look.

Conviction of the reasonableness of theism and the tenuousness of atheism usually in itself does not cause a man to accept practical theism. There seems to be an almost innate suspicion that the recognition of Deity will somehow rob one of freedom. To the scholar, who cherishes intellectual liberty, any thought of abridged freedom is especially dreadful. And the fear of losing freedom is not baseless. Religion for the most part has been, and is, a strait-jacket to reason. Even great branches of Christianity practice intellectual dictator­ship. However, this character of religion is, obviously, a reflection of man. Philosophical tyranny is not a necessary adjunct to a deity concept. For example, the God of the Christians is portrayed in their handbook, the Bible, as bringing new and greater freedom. The Biblical injunction is, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.”

But what is it that actually causes a man to accept practi­cal theism? I think it is not too different from that which causes a man to accept a friend’s existence. A man will believe in God when he meets God.

I believe I have so encountered God—and still do. I am glad that the theistic model of reality is reasonable, but the extent of this reasonableness and the force of its compulsion to believe is secondary: I have met God. This, of course, is a very personal experience and I do not offer it to you, if you are undecided, as a proof; you must meet God for yourself.

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For further study: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler & Frank Turek

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